In 1999, Univerasl Studios was getting ready to open their new theme park, Islands of Adventure. This would be part of an expansion and renaming of the whole area to Universal Studios Escape.
That didn’t last too long. Today, it’s known as the Universal Orlando Resort.
But in 1999, you could visit Universal Studios Florida and get a sneak peak at the wonders that would await you when the new park opened next year… Let’s take a look at their preview center.
I previously shared this photo, which shows that the preview center was there in 1999 as well…
Either I didn’t go in, it wasn’t open, they weren’t allowing photos, or I just ran out of camera memory. But in 1999, I did go through it. Here’s a better photo of the entrance:
Step inside, and you could see concept artwork and a map of the new theme park:
They had sections of the center dedicated to the different areas of the new park. Here is a look at the Dr. Suess-inspired Suess Landing:
Up next was a room dedicated to the Lost Continent section of the park:
And apparently there was some kind of passport book you could get, and get it stamped in each area. I had completely forgotten about this. I have no idea if I have one somewhere, but if I run across it, I’ll scan it and share it in a future article.
Up next would be Toon Lagoon, where all the leftover cartoon characters that weren’t tied up by Disney, Six Flags or Knott’s Berry Farms would live:
After this, we got to see what Marvel Super-Hero Island would have in store for us.
And, because I am old and don’t mine humiliating myself, I’ll share this never-before-seen photo of me meeting one of my all-time heroes: Spider-Man!
I remember saying to him, “You’re my favorite!” And he replied, “Yes, I know…” How can you not love that guy? Who would have thought that, two decades later, he’d be “harassing” me on the streets of Disney’s California Adventure 😉
Next we came to Jurassic Park. I must have been really excited about this land, based on the then-six-year-old movie, because I took more photos here than any of the other areas.
I *think* this was the wall that would “bang” and show the impact of a dinosaur (probably a raptor) crashing into it:
And I guess there must have been some kind of effect here, but I don’t recall what it was. (Honestly, I just remember meeting Spider-Man, and the impact wall at Jurassic Park.)
And lastly, a nice map showing the overview of the entire Universal Studios Escape resort expansion:
We had no idea at the time that Spider-Man would be such a smash hit. We still thought that this, of all parks, might be the one park to dethrone Disney World. But, as we found out, ultimately that didn’t happen and, if anything, it just brought more people to Orlando and increased Disney attendance.
At some point, I will share my thoughts on my first-time visit to Islands of Adventure, but for now…
When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998, one of the few “rides” in the park was Countdown to Extinction in Dinoland U.S.A. The ride was basically a dinosaur-themed version of the Indiana Jones Adventure that had opened at Disneyland in 1995. Once the movie Dinosaur came out, the ride was renamed to Dinosaur, though remnants to the original name still remain…
But I digress… Taking a trip back in time (see what I did there?) to 1998 shows another change. In that inaugural year of the attraction, you would see this TV station news van parked nearby:
When I look back to the EPCOT Center I visited for the first time in the summer of 1983 (its first summer of operation), I have a difficult time choosing my favorite thing about the park. I do recall that, at the time, EPCOT was my favorite Disney park, hands down. I even made a pen-pal that worked as a video operator at the futuristic WorldKey.
I do know that, by the time I had my first digital camera in 1996, many of the things I loved, such as World of Motion and Journey into Imagination (original version), were gone. But, Horizons was there, and no other Future World pavilion did a better job at representing the Future World than Horizons.
I must have really liked it in 1996, because I took more photos of it than any other attraction.
For those too young to remember Horizons, it’s what came before Mission Space and it was a slow moving animatronic Omnimover dark ride rather than a spinning simulator thrill ride. But, it did feature space.
Let’s take a look…
Looking back, while the building still looks cool, it does seem a bit dated. Geometric shapes in the 1980s seem to have taken over all the Logan’s Run white spires of the 1970s. But, darn, it still looks cool.
Upon entering the building, you would see two departure boards for the “Futureport.” There were four gates to the left (and a closed door), and four more gates to the right. I suppose the idea of “airport terminal” started with Horizons rather than Soarin’.
You’d then walk down some futuristic hallways and see kaleidoscope images that, if I recall, represented the three main locations in the ride – desert, undersea and space.
It was a neat effect. I wonder if someone has behind-the-scenes of how it worked somewhere?
You would then reach the load area, and enter a sidewise facing Omnimover vehicle that sat four people.
There were speakers in the vehicle, just like a Doom Buggy at the Haunted Mansion. It also had sliding doors that would close automatically. One other unique feature, which you wouldn’t learn about until the end of the ride, were light up buttons in front of each passenger. They represented desert, undersea and space.
Here’s a side view:
Although I would return in later years and take photos of almost every ride scene, in 1996, I took just a few photos inside the ride. I would wait for a gap in the line where no one was behind me, then stop and chat with the loading cast member for a bit. This would allow several empty cars to go past before I got on. As long as there were a few empty cars behind me, I would then break a Disney rule and take flash photos inside the ride — since I knew there were no guests to be disturbed. (This is also how I learned there were apparently no cameras inside this ride.)
The ride presented some of our visions of the future from the past, such as H.G. Wells and his rocket to the moon.
There was also more of a 1950s look at what we thought the future would be like, with robots and luxury.
There are many things I am happy to turn over to robots, but I’m not sure a haircut is one of them yet. Giving robots sharp objects still worries me a bit, and indeed, the very next scene in Horizons showed that robots sometimes went wrong.
Eventually we would come to scenes representing our three future habitats. The first showed us a future desert farmer, talking on video screen…
…then you’d see who she was talking to, from his end.
Although many things predicted in Horizons have yet to come true, video chatting is certainly here today. In the first seen, you saw an animatronic woman talking to a human on a video screen. In the next scene, we see an animatronic version of that human talking to a video screen human of the first animatronic. Mind blown. How cool would it have been to be those two, who get to be videos in a Disney ride, AND get animatronics made that look like them?
For undersea, we saw an animatronic woman talking to some guy working on his sub.
Was that a (simulated) large screen flat panel display? Mark that down as something else we now have. (A similarly wall screen was part of the 1970s and 1980s post-show at Space Mountain.)
Then we find the animatronic version of that guy talking to a video version of the previous animatronic… Inception!
There were other scenes that supported the scenario. For some reason, I took a few extra pictures of undersea. Here was a class (with their per sea lion?) getting ready for an undersea field trip:
You’d pass a portal that used a video effect to show them swimming outside. You’d also pass what appeared to be an underwater restaurant with diners inside and this kid looking out the window to another sea lion.
Are those sea lions? I never got to go to SeaWorld enough to really learn.
Eventually you got to space, and saw a zero gravity family scene.
And there was a scene showing crystals being grown in zero gravity, as well.
Incidentally, that crystal ended up in someone’s home…
And, just because I like to embarrass myself, here’s me riding Horizons in 1998.
I’m wearing one of my “Al’s Place” T-shirts, since this was before I registered DisneyFans.com. I’m not sure what the button is, but I had a button making machine back then so probably something self-made and geeky.
And that’s a pretty much complete tour through all the Horizons photos I took in 1996 with my first digital camera. I have many, many more Horizons photos, so maybe sometime I will post a more-complete tour.
Pirates of the Caribbean had already been added by the time I saw Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World for the first time. (Yes, Virginia, there was a time when Pirates was not yet there. Although the Wikipedia states it opened in 1973, it wasn’t yet listed in the park guides for the Spring/Summer season.)
One of my favorite memories from the ride was the animatronic pirate parrot outside the ride’s entrance. Animatronics were still brand new technology at the time. The first animated Tiki Birds showed up at Disneyland in 1963 followed by the first human characters at Disney’s exhibits at the 1964 Worlds Fair (specifically Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln and Carousel of Progress). As a child in the 70s, I was mesmerized by these robotic creatures, and this parrot was a great way to watch one up close.
But I digress.
Getting back to the parrot, it dawns on me that, soon, it will have been long enough since he was removed that a whole new generation will exist that has no idea this parrot ever existed… (Thank goodness for YouTube videos, I suppose.)
Between my 1999 WDW visit and my return in 2006, the parrot was gone.
During the “update” they added all kinds of banners, more painted signs, and a huge ship mast with sails outside. I guess folks were having trouble locating this attraction.
And, to remind everyone that the ride now was linked to the still-new Johnny Depp movies, the movie logo appeared in various places.
As far as the pirate parrot, at some point after his removal, I believe he (was it the original figure?) was on display in Downtown Disney at the big Disney Store, but I can’t find a photo of it. Did I imagine that? Or did I just see someone else’s photo of it?
Well, wherever he is, he is missed, at least by this one guest.
With the recent (as I write this, not as you read it) announcement of Epcot’s Wonders of Life pavilion returning as a new Play pavilion, I thought I’d see what photos I took there with my first digital camera in 1996.
Not much, as it turns out. But let’s take a look anyway.
I liked that the pavilion was a done — sorta like some of the “domed city” concepts Walt Disney had for E.P.C.O.T. Outside was the large monument representing a DNA strand. And, at the time, it was sponsored by MetLife.
Inside, I thought it looked more like a colorful mall food court.
There wasn’t much in this pavilion — some movies and live entertainment, plus the movie/animatronic Cranium Command and motion simulator Body Wars.
Body Wars was directed by Leonard “Spock” Nimoy. It used the same ride system as Star Tours. In the early years, there were many issues with people getting sick on the ride due to the fluid motion of the simulator. It never bothered me like that, but I did not find it as fun as the Star Tours space race. Since many folks don’t seem to comment on this these days, I assume Disney must have toned it down, much like they did with Indiana Jones Adventure at Disneyland.
And those were the only photos I took of Wonders of Life during my first visit to Walt Disney World with a digital camera.
Today let’s park hop over to another company: Universal Studios.
I visited the original Universal Studios Florida park as a teenager in the early 1990s. I remember quite a few of the former Universal Studios attractions such as the Alfred Hitchcock exhibit/show and Ghostbusters. I don’t remember when my first visit was, but I’m pretty sure I also went in 1994 and 1995. Oddly, there was apparently a tram tour there until 1995 and I don’t remember that at all. Either it was completely forgettable, or for some reason we chose to never go on it. (Honestly, I had no idea there was ever a tram tour there until a few months ago!)
But I digress…
When I started my “traveling job” in 1995, I found myself in Orlando several times a year. While I had an annual pass to Walt Disney World (and Disneyland) for many years, I rarely visited Universal Studios. The first time I went outside of a few earlier family vacations was in 1998.
In my earlier visits, Universal had a large parking lot out front. By 1998, everything had changed as they prepared to open the new Islands of Adventure park. This was a bit similar to what was starting to happen at the Disneyland Resortaround the same time for their upcoming Disney’s California Adventure park.
Since my camera could only hold 99 photos, I don’t have many to share from this one day visit. But, some things I found are a bit interesting.
Before there was a Mummy rollercoaster, there was a Mummy movie exhibit:
The Boneyard was still there, which featured various props from movies. Including literal bones (from the Flintstones movie, I think?).
I don’t remember where that was. Is this where the big stage area is now? Now neither Disney or Universal have a place with us to look at old movie vehicles. Oh well.
At the original Universal Studios Hollywood, there is a Waterworld stunt show. But at Universal in Florida, you could only see a prop from the movie:
Behind it you can see the stage for the Wild Wild West Stunt Show. I don’t think I ever saw that.
Something that I miss were these unique photo spots. They had a place where you could place your camera and line up a shot. Then, they would have matte paintings or miniatures that you camera could see as well as a real background. This one was supposed to make it look like the Back to the Future building was part of a launch site for the Space Shuttle.
Unfortunately, my camera had no view screen (the optical “look through here” lens was in the corner, and the camera lens was in the center) so I couldn’t properly line up the shot. But you get the idea.
There was also a preview center for the upcoming Islands of Adventure theme park. I have one picture that kind of shows it:
Oddly, I have no photos inside of it. Either it wasn’t open yet (it looks like it was?), or it was and I was out of camera memory, or perhaps photos were not being allowed. Does anyone remember? I visited again in 1999 and have photos inside. I’ll do an update on “Before Islands of Adventure” soon.
There was a Nickelodeon section! I remember that channel for the early years of cable TV.
Also, the Hard Rock Cafe was different. For some reason, I thought that it had been moved. I recall you could get into it from the park — is that still the case? They had the bus (was it the real one, or a replica?) from The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour.
Men in Black was under construction in 1998…
And of course, we had Twister! That hasn’t been gone too long, so I’ll just share one thing I found interesting:
See that red cup? That’s an Eskimo Joe’s cup from Stillwater, Oklahoma. I had a friend who was going to school in Stillwater, and when I passed through on my way home from Texas to Iowa, she took me there. I had several cups from the place, and was surprised to see on here. Universal Studios did their research! (Though, it’s worth noting that, while the movie was set in Oklahoma, a lot of it was filmed in Iowa. In 1995 when I moved to Iowa, I heard on the radio about them filming some tornado movie there. “Oh, great, I’ve moved to a place so famous for tornados that they film movies about them here!”)
That will do it for now, but I’ll have another Universal photo essay soon showing off the Island of Adventure preview center, as well as some other long-gone things.
In 1996, Epcot was celebrating 14 years of existence. That’s newer than Disney’s California Adventure is from the time that I write this (2018-2001=17 years-ish). And to me, DCA (and Animal Kingdom) still seem like new parks!
During the 90s, Epcot began changing from the original intent of the 1980s park to whatever it is today. With Disney and Pixar characters being added everywhere, especially in World Showcase, the park feels more like a light Fantasyland in many ways:
A Frozen water/dark ride (Norway).
A Three Caballeros dark/water ride (Mexico).
A Ratatouille dark ride (under construction in France).
…plus all kinds of character meet-and-greet opportunities.
Originally, the attractions were themed to the experiences found in the countries they were in. Today and in the future, it seems they are just more Fantasyland dark rides.
But I digress…
Let’s stick to the Future World section of the park and look at a few entertainment offerings you could find back in 1996.
Do you remember the “visiting family of space aliens” (if I recall the guide description) that appeared and did …this?
At the time, I’d never seen anything quite like it. Saying they were “visiting aliens” was a stretch, but by doing that and putting them in spacey outfits at least gave us some reasoning for why they were in Future World. Since then, I’ve seen dozens of acro-balance acts at Renaissance festivals and other events. But I can at least say “I saw this for the first time at Disney!”
Just like Main Street USA has their “citizens of Main Street,” there were various characters found at the Future World pavilions. This character was in front of Horizons…
I have no recollection of what was going on there, but it caught my attention enough to use one of my 99 digital photos I could take that day.
Meanwhile, over near the still-new Test Track, this nerdy scientist character was conducting some cooling experiments…
He had set up a walkway with traffic cones (outlandishly outfitted with caution tape) and was allowing guests to go through his human “car wash” … Yep, he was spraying them with water mist bottles.
With his bowl cut hairdo, his extreme overbite, and stereotypical Asian accent, it was … something.
Epcot had “struggled” for years to not be thought of as a boring park. Changing the slow moving World of Motion to the fast moving Test Track (the fastest ride at Walt Disney World) was probably the first extreme example of this.
But, lesser extreme examples were the park introducing Disney characters quickly after opening (it opened without them), and then adding more and more odd street entertainment like these.
Had I know then direction the park was starting to take, I would have taken many more photos of various other things they had in those years.
Is anything from that era still part of Epcot? Magic Kingdom still has their mayor, but does Epcot still have that guy? 🙂
The first “new land” added to Magic Kingdom since it opened was Mickey’s Birthdayland in 1988 (or so says the Wikipedia). It was renamed to Mickey’s Starland in 1990. Something I had never read was that it supposedly was briefly known as Mickey’s Toyland in 1995 (again, from the Wikipedia — this is the first time I’ve read that). I think I only saw it as Starland during my family trips in the summer of ’94 and ’95.
It began a large refurbishment to become Mickey’s Toontown Fair in 1996. I remember a promotional photo that was released showing Mickey, Goofy and Donald hard at work:
This version made the land a bit more similar to Mickey’s Toontown at Disneyland, though it was missing the Roger Rabbit references and most of the “town” part. It did, at least, add Mickey’s house, Donald’s boat, and a few others elements.
According to this sign, the grand opening was expected October 1996:
Because of this sign, I believe all the photos I have from this August 1996 visit should be considered Mickey’s Starland. I suppose this means some of the buildings were already there, or they were opened before the grand opening. I’m too lazy to go look anything up.
Here’s a map:
Going with the “fair” theme, there was the big tent with character meet and greets:
You can see how they were able to keep the tent when this area became Storybook Circus.
Some of the nicer elements at the time where the buildings that were, more or less, brought over from the other Toontown(s). Pete has his garage:
Donald had his boat, the Miss Daisy:
Minnie had her house:
And there was even a simple version of the Toontown Park:
The train station depot was rather bland, though.
Compare that to what Disneyland’s Toontown looked like, the Florida version was sparse and barren. But, at least it was a step up from the earlier encarnations.
And you could meet characters…
I’m, uh, not sure what “Practice your hugs” was all about.
When I visited in 1997, the rest of the land was ready, including the Barnstormer roller coaster. But it’s nice to have an in-progress look at one of the lesser lands ever built in a castle park.
Let’s take a trip back to 1996 and see what was going on at the Magic Kingdom. Who remembers the Tropical Serenade? It was the East Coast version of the 1964 Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland.
I believe they still had the “barker bird” out front, letting us know what wonders await inside. Pirates of the Caribbean had their own barker bird back then, too.
I recall we usually just called it the Tiki Birds, and indeed, that’s what the sign said at the top. This later changed to the Under New Management version, then finally returned to a version of the original, but using the Disneyland name. Full circle!
One of my strongest memories from family vacations in the 1970s where these carvings that played drum music. They later became water sprayers, but they were just drumming away in 1996:
Over in Fantasyland, the Cinderella Castle was … a cake! Happy 25th Anniversary, Walt Disney World! Here’s a few photos from my collection (click on them to see larger versions):
Folks where riding the Skyway rather than wishing it would be restrooms:
And my beloved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had recently closed, and was being used as a character meet area.
Well, at least Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was still there. I always thought it was the best and most popular dark ride.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t find the Mickey Mouse Revue that I remember seeing, but there was this relatively new Legend of the Lion King puppet show:
Over in Frontierland, the Diamond Horseshoe was NOT a restaurant.
Meanwhile, in Liberty Square you could hop aboard a Keel Boat for a really unique ride around the Rivers of America:
This painting had also been recently added inside the attic of the Haunted Mansion. Few had digital cameras back then, so I left a long gap of Doombuggies before I boarded (with no one behind me) and broke the rules so I could take a flash picture of this to share:
I do not recall the story behind it, but I think it might have been a painting from Phantom Manor at EuroDisney.
I am told that these hands in the “corridors of doors” have been removed, so here they are in 1996:
And back then, we didn’t have much for Haunted Mansion merchandising, but at least we had a cart:
I’ve already shared some things from Main Street USA, so I’ll just include a photo of the old “wait time” signs:
And here is the wonderful side street that has since been filled in and turned in to more retail space:
Look how lovely that little area was! Such a shame it’s gone. At the end was the barber shop, I believe, and I even got my hair cut there around this time.
Over in Tomorrowland, the still-new Alien Encounter was there:
…and the Skyway station was also not restrooms yet:
And the GoodyearGrand Prix Raceway was still quite retro:
There is a bit more still to share, but I think I’ll save Mickey’s Toontown Fair for a posting of it’s own since it’s completely gone today.